Nude Iranian movie star ignites firestorm
Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani's photo has spurred thousands of reactions on Facebook.
January 20th, 2012
04:03 PM ET

Nude Iranian movie star ignites firestorm

A photo and video of a famous Iranian actress baring her breasts have gone viral this week, igniting a fiery debate among Iranians.

Golshifteh Farahani appears topless, cupping her breasts, in a photo in the French magazine Madame Le Figaro. Also, a video apparently made by a French film academy, features the actress looking directly into a camera as she disrobes. She stands with her breasts uncovered. Soon after the images hit the Web, reaction was swift inside Iran, where Farahani gained fame in state-sponsored movies that forbid the mere touching of hands.

"The fate of an actress, who left her own country and joined Hollywood, has been nothing but immorality," the semi-official Fars News Agency wrote this week. "The actress who once played the role of caring and decent mothers of Iran has now auctioned off her modesty and honor in front of the Western cameras."

Farahani reportedly moved to France shortly after making history in the Iranian film industry by being the first Iranian to star in a Western film. In 2008, she played a nurse in "Body of Lies" with Leonardo DiCaprio.

It's unclear if the actress currently lives in France. Her agency in Paris declined a CNN interview request as Facebook, Twitter and blogs lit up with incendiary remarks about her. Some say Farahani has betrayed Islam and Iran for revealing her body. Other posters are supportive. They cheer her boldness and defend her right to self-expression.

Several Facebook pages have popped up in recent days with notes encouraging visitors to re-post the photo and video. A wall post Thursday appeared on a Facebook page that appears to belong to the actress. The message, carrying Farahani's name, says, "We have to open our mind!!"

Among other comments on Facebook:

"She is really brave, and I am proud of her. She shows what she believes in and it has nothing to do with others."

"Along with me and all my friends, we are really proud of you."

"I'm ashamed to call you an Iranian."

"Good for you Golshifteh dear! For once an Iranian with guts has come out to show we are just like anyone else in this world. You can model and do whatever you like, just like every woman from Los Angeles to Tokyo."

CNN reached Iranians inside the country Thursday night.

None wanted their last name published, saying they feared government reprisal for speaking to Western media. Yasmin, a 22-year-old student from Tehran, called Farahani "irresponsible" for posing nude.

"What did she think? She could pose topless in Paris, and then come back to Tehran, cover up again, and everything will be fine?" Yasmin said. "She should have thought about that before she did it. I understand she is an actress and artist, but she also has an Iranian passport."

Daroush, a 32-year-old English teacher in Shiraz, said he suspects the photo and video were purely publicity stunts to further Farahani's film career. "As an Iranian inside Iran, I knew who Golshifteh Farahani was, but did Americans or Brits?" he asked. "Probably not, but now they know. Smart woman."

Fereshteh, a 56-year-old retired schoolteacher in Tehran, is pleased to see the actress breaking a taboo, even if "her actions are against Iranian culture." Amin, a 34-year-old Web designer in Shiraz, said he didn't understand what all the fuss is about.

"Women in Hollywood pose like this daily," he said. "Why should an Iranian be treated differently? Because we are Muslims? There are Muslims all over the world who are models, actresses, artists that pose like this."

Mohammed, a 40-year-old engineer who lives in the city of Isfahan, said the actress "should be ashamed of herself."

He also said he felt actors and actresses have a tough time working in Iran, and Farahani posing nude will only make their jobs more difficult.

Mary Apick agrees. Three decades ago, Apick was a huge movie star in Iran, winning a best actress award for her role in an Iranian film at the Moscow Film Festival. She said performers in Iran will likely feel more pressure to adhere to the regime's notion of strict Islamic code in both their performances on screen and their personal life.

"They will be scrutinized more, no doubt," she said.

On Thursday, Apick watched the video of Farahani while interviewed her. "I cannot believe what I'm seeing," she said. "She can never go back to Iran. No way. No way on Earth. Oh, I empathize with this beautiful young actress. No one has ever done anything like this. This is truly the bravest, boldest thing I've ever seen."

Apick lives in the United States, and has forged a successful career as a playwright, actress and activist in the West. She's lauded for writing and starring in the play "Beneath the Veil," which interweaves stories of women struggling for their rights.

"It was impossible to be an actress in Iran when I was there, and it's not gotten easier. It's become harder. There is no honest art, so there is no art. The regime has no interest in women, (especially not) strong women characters in movies," she said.

To get a film made and released in Iran, she said, a filmmaker must first shoot and produce the piece. Funding is up to them. They are required to present the finished product to Iranian authorities who view it and censor it if they feel it steps outside Islamic code. Government authorities then decide whether to issue a permit for the film's release. No permit, no movie.

Mehdi Semati, a media professor at Northern Illinois University who has written extensively about Iranian films, has been monitoring Internet chatter and listening to his Iranian students lively discussions the photo and video. They are split, mirroring comments online, he said.

He has been particularly surprised by the reaction of one student who subscribes to a rather hard-line pro-regime viewpoint. The student wasn't as harsh as Semati expected him to be. "I could tell it really made him think," he said.

"It almost doesn't matter what (Farahani's) intent was," the professor said. "Farahani posing this way shows that even Iran's highly proscribed, controlled filmmaking industry does not have total control, even over an icon of their own making."

Even more significantly, he added, it demonstrates that the Iranian regime cannot prevent anyone with access to the Web from judging for themselves.

Saskya Vandoorne, Anna Prichard and Niki Cook contributed to this report.

soundoff (1,071 Responses)
  1. leeintulsa

    Sometimes cheap is all you can afford. I support breasts in any manifestation.

    January 22, 2012 at 10:30 pm | Report abuse |
  2. A proud Iranian man!

    What's all this talk of Iranians and their backwards culture! I am an Iranian man and neither I nor anyone of my friends or family members find this offensive. I say good for her for doing what she wanted... trust me a greater portion of Iran's population are cultered, well-educated and modern people. They just have a religious dictatorship representing them in the world, which is sad. And for all those islam-lovers who say what if this was your mother or your sister, I put the question to you: WHAT IF this was your mother or sister? The least you could do would be to support her decision! I know I would. but you would probably stone your own mother right?

    January 22, 2012 at 11:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • tim

      We need more like you in the world.

      January 22, 2012 at 11:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • agavemike

      As a proud Iranian man, when do you plan on taking back your country?

      January 23, 2012 at 12:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Gary

      I have a feeling there are MANY Iranians that wish for her death right now. And I have a hard time believing that "most Iranians are modern". OK fine... PROVE IT and destroy this "religious dictatorship" that represents you. Until then...

      January 23, 2012 at 4:24 am | Report abuse |
    • Thor

      I love you man! If I didn't know any better, I would think that you were Thomas Jefferson.....!

      January 23, 2012 at 5:45 am | Report abuse |
  3. mfx3

    I've never even heard of Hollywood, France.

    January 22, 2012 at 11:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thor

      It's west of Orleans France.

      January 23, 2012 at 5:46 am | Report abuse |
  4. leeintulsa

    So, proud Iranian, why do you let this religious dictatorship tell you, and your children.. and your children's children..? how to live.. If you can see how wrong it is?

    January 22, 2012 at 11:31 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Worry01

    Islam keeps proclaiming its progressive nature time and again, but the pretense falls apart just like a cheap burka just as often.

    January 22, 2012 at 11:53 pm | Report abuse |
  6. DC

    These days, a story about a woman that keeps her clothes on would be far more newsworthy.

    January 23, 2012 at 12:29 am | Report abuse |
    • Thor

      It is not about the clothes, Grasshopper! It's about what she has stated about the separation of church and state.

      January 23, 2012 at 5:47 am | Report abuse |
  7. FrankO

    Propaganda. Demoralize the enemy. 10 guesses at who paid her.

    January 23, 2012 at 12:30 am | Report abuse |
    • tim

      Yes, a French Magazine.

      January 23, 2012 at 1:46 am | Report abuse |
  8. DFWDelia

    For whatever it's worth I have never been exactly shy about my body and I would often run around naked growing up. I don't see why everyone makes such a big fuss over it! I happened to fall in love and marry a man who is very controlling and who expects me to more or less be his nudist housewife but it's all good since it is my choice to be a part of that kind of lifestyle. It should be that way for all girls everywhere without men telling us what we can and can't do with our bodies unless that's what we choose!

    January 23, 2012 at 4:55 am | Report abuse |
  9. ClamFobes

    I cheer her decision as an artist to celebrate her freedom of expression. On behalf of all who appreciate beauty I support your career. History has continually shown us that repression of the arts and freedom of expression is never permanent or long lasting. Nice job.

    January 23, 2012 at 5:41 am | Report abuse |
  10. Albert

    She was by no means " the first Iranian to star in a Western film". There were many before her; Shohreh Aghdashloo was nominated for an Academy Award in 2003 for a leading role, Golshifdeh's in comparison was/is quite insignificant. Hence the attention seeking behavior.

    January 23, 2012 at 6:22 am | Report abuse |
    • TheLord

      If you knew how to read, then you would understand why she did it.

      January 23, 2012 at 7:12 am | Report abuse |
  11. sdgman

    She won't be returning to Iran or using an Iranian passport any time soon. I wonder when the Fatwa will be issued.

    January 23, 2012 at 7:09 am | Report abuse |
  12. TheLord

    Go to any Islamic news web site and search her name. You will find nothing. I guess gorgeous women are not news worthy in Islam, unless they have a ring in there nose attached to a leash.

    January 23, 2012 at 7:11 am | Report abuse |
  13. Jt_flyer

    I love Persian women. Nude is even better.

    January 23, 2012 at 7:24 am | Report abuse |
  14. Geronimo

    This is as outrageous as South Carolina Christians voting for Newt Gingrich!

    January 23, 2012 at 9:45 am | Report abuse |
  15. The Russian

    I think what she did is completly her decision, if she wants to show off her body then let her. its her decision not the Iranian governments

    January 23, 2012 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
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